UCT academic staff set to go on strike after wage talks deadlock

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Academic staff at the University of Cape Town (UCT) are gearing up to go on strike for the first time in the university's history after wage negotiations reached a deadlock.
Academic staff at the University of Cape Town (UCT) are gearing up to go on strike for the first time in the university's history after wage negotiations reached a deadlock.
Pool RENAULT/RIEGER/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images
  • UCT's academic staff are set to embark on a wage strike after negotiations deadlocked.
  • The Academics' Union, representing the majority of academic staff, polled its members on the possibility of embarking on strike action.
  • Almost nine out of 10 members voted to go on strike.

Academic staff at the University of Cape Town (UCT) are gearing up to go on strike for the first time in the university's history after wage negotiations reached a deadlock. 

The Academics' Union (AU), representing a majority of academic staff at the university, polled its members on their willingness to take this step - and industrial action was supported by 87% of AU members.

The union said it anticipated the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA) would issue a strike certificate on Friday.

The AU has been locked in wage negotiations with the institution since last year after they were offered a salary increase of 3% in November. 

Members of the union rejected the offer, and the institution assured them a revised offer would be forthcoming, but it had not materialised, the organisation claimed. 

In a statement, AU said on Friday: "Academic staff are committed to going on strike over what they feel is an insulting and derisory pay increase of 3% offered for the 2023 year.

"Consumer Price Inflation in 2022, according to data released from Statistics South Africa this week, was 6.9%. The universities that UCT has historically used as comparators in setting pay increases have been able to offer their employees at least a 6% increase."

Kelley Moult, leader of the AU salary bargaining team, said they found it hard to accept that UCT, one of the premier universities in South Africa, could not match the pay increases offered by other higher education institutions.

READ | UCT crisis: Council deposes deputy chair, confirms Mpati panel

"The insult of the 3% pay offer is further compounded by the university having budgeted for a R183 million increase in student financial aid (a 106% increase from 2022). Matching the pay increases offered by other universities would cost an additional approximately R90 million," she said.

Moult added the academic staff at UCT were not being greedy.

"We have emerged from a harrowing and stressful time of moving to online teaching and learning during Covid, and this offer would see our members 4% worse off in real terms," she stressed.

In the vote taken by members of the AU this week, 87% expressed support for a three-day strike, with potential further strikes, as soon as the CCMA issues the strike certificate. 

Working to rule on days when there is no strike action planned is also likely.

This vote follows the union's near-unanimous rejection of the 3% offer in a vote held in December last year.

"The university bargaining team has consistently failed to return with a revised mandate since 1 December last year despite being given ample opportunity to do so. The time has come for academic staff to make it clear in no uncertain terms that they reject the offer made by the university management," said Professor Andrew Lilley, the president of the AU.

READ | The student activist who gaslit security guards at UCT and cost them their jobs

Lilley said the strike would affect the university in the key weeks leading to the release of the 2022 supplementary examination results and registration for the 2023 academic year.

"If there is no settlement, academic activities such as teaching may be adversely affected too," Lilley said.UCT spokesperson Elijah Moholola said the institution respected its relationship with the various recognised unions on campus.

"One of these is the Academics Union, the solely recognised union representing UCT academics within the university bargaining space. As per usual practice, matters and discussions relating to bargaining processes are limited to the parties involved and foregrounded by mutual respect.

"UCT continues working tirelessly on addressing the issues emanating from the bargaining process and will give further updates when deemed appropriate," he said. 

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